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How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

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How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Mon Mar 05, 2012 11:09 am

In thinking through the idea of Sovereignty, salvation, and election, the question of free will is a constant companion. In my journey through this quagmire, I believe that working through the questions of what free will is, and depending on your definition, does it exist, have helped me see God better. So, what do you think? What is a good, robust, workable definition of free will? And, does free will exist?
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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by JoelKizz on Mon Mar 05, 2012 2:00 pm

I do think that defining what someone actually means when the use the term free will is of the utmost importance. I have learned thinking through this issue that many people (myself included) can/do use the term many different ways. I think the way I have always thought of free will was in the "libertarian" sense. In other words, when considering a choice between A and B I can freely choose either and I could have chosen the other.

1. I can choose A or B freely (no one / nothing is forcing me to do so)
2. I could have chosen the opposite

Now I tend to look at free will in a more slightly more restrictive manor:

1. I can choose A or B freely (no one / nothing forcing me to do so)

Note that I still freely make choices the only difference is that I have removed the possibility of making the other choice.

In summary I would define free will as "mans ability to do that which he desires to do and only that which he desires to do" - and in that way, yes it does exist.
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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by jsm1874 on Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:38 pm

My question is what are the things that influence our "free will" and if there are influences on our "free will" then is it really free will at all?

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:45 pm

jsm1874, I agree that those questions do, and should, flow out of a discussion on free will. My concern though, is that I need to understand what you mean when you say free will in order that we are not talking at cross purposes. When you say "free will", what do you think it means? Can you give an example?

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by jsm1874 on Mon Mar 05, 2012 6:01 pm

I think free will in its simplest terms is the ability to make decisions without outside influence. That is where my original question comes into play because I believe that everyone is influenced by outside "forces." I mean even from a young age we are taught to make decisions based on the outcome that we want. If we do something wrong like catch an apartment on fire when we are 2 then we think twice about doing things that may have a negative outcome. I would say that I am lean toward the believe that there is no true free will because we are influenced by our culture and the way we were raised among other things. Sometime those influences are the very things that hinder us from having free will and having the ability to see what our next step in life should be.

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by London Watcher on Mon Mar 05, 2012 10:37 pm

"Man's ability to do that which he desires to do and only that which he desires to do."

I like Joel's definition of free will, which entails voluntary action and ability to make choices without influence from outside forces. With this definition in mind, do I think that free will exists? Instead of answering that question, let me present some evidence from my discipline suggesting that free will does not actually exist. (Mind you, I'm not saying that I adhere to this perspective. I'm just throwing it out there for everyone to consider.)

One piece of evidence (as espoused by psychologists) suggesting that free will is an illusion can be found in studies on priming. The concept of priming behavior entails brief exposure to certain information drastically changing the way you behave, even when the information is (visually) presented outside of your conscious perception. For example, participants in one study were briefly exposed to two types of words: neutral words and words related to elderly people. Participants who viewed the elderly-related words actually walked slower down a hallway than participants who viewed the neutral words. Why? Because simply looking at words pertaining to elderly people activated the related concept of "slowness" in participants' minds. Their actual behavior changed (outside of their awareness) simply based on some words presented on a computer screen. The same priming effects can be produced in a plethora of paradigms, influencing behaviors ranging from eating habits to memory formation. In short, we can't control the information to which we are exposed, and we can't always be aware of the influence that such primes have on our behavior. That is, we don't really have control over our own behavior, no matter how much we think we do.

I can present more evidence from psychology research, but I'll start here for now. Thoughts?
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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:26 am

I knew you were going to be good for us, Bryan! The idea that simply seeing a few simple words would influence not only choices we make consciously, but also manipulate our reflexive actions, is humbling. Then to consider an encounter with the God of the universe. It is like the Paul Washer questioned in the sermon Joel posted. Could you have an "encounter" with a 30 ton log hauler and not be changed for ever?

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Tue Mar 06, 2012 5:35 pm

Jeff, I tend to agree with your idea that there are no choices that are uninfluenced by outside "forces". Isn't that what you are choosing-some outside event has occurred and has forced an internal decision. I have struggled with this question for quite a while, and I now find myself tending towards a view of free will that is basically getting to do what I want to do, without outside coercion, but also with the caveat that it was inevitable.

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by JoelKizz on Wed Mar 07, 2012 1:13 am

London Watcher wrote:
"Man's ability to do that which he desires to do and only that which he desires to do."

I like Joel's definition of free will, which entails voluntary action and ability to make choices without influence from outside forces.


One thing I do want to clarify is that my position maintains that we make free choices that are free from coercion in the way that a puppet on a string would be forced to act, I do however completely believe that every single choice has outside influences and causes. As a matter of fact one question I like to ask those who believe in libertarian free will, "have you ever done anything for no reason?" If you think about it, nothing is ever done for no reason at all. If an action were done for no reason whatsoever it would have to be random. Random choices don't get us any closer to "free will", then your decisions would just happen.
Now Ill take it a step further and say that not only does every decision / choice / action have a cause but that indeed that cause is always directly one's desire or want. Every choice I ever ponder I weigh the payoffs and then make a decision based on what I want to do. Even if someone holds a gun to my head and orders me to do something I still weigh death vs what is ordered and make a decision based on personal payoff. This is incidentally why I propagate the doctrine of Christian Hedonism.

With this definition in mind, do I think that free will exists? Instead of answering that question, let me present some evidence from my discipline suggesting that free will does not actually exist. (Mind you, I'm not saying that I adhere to this perspective. I'm just throwing it out there for everyone to consider.)

One piece of evidence (as espoused by psychologists) suggesting that free will is an illusion can be found in studies on priming. The concept of priming behavior entails brief exposure to certain information drastically changing the way you behave, even when the information is (visually) presented outside of your conscious perception. For example, participants in one study were briefly exposed to two types of words: neutral words and words related to elderly people. Participants who viewed the elderly-related words actually walked slower down a hallway than participants who viewed the neutral words. Why? Because simply looking at words pertaining to elderly people activated the related concept of "slowness" in participants' minds. Their actual behavior changed (outside of their awareness) simply based on some words presented on a computer screen. The same priming effects can be produced in a plethora of paradigms, influencing behaviors ranging from eating habits to memory formation. In short, we can't control the information to which we are exposed, and we can't always be aware of the influence that such primes have on our behavior. That is, we don't really have control over our own behavior, no matter how much we think we do.

I can present more evidence from psychology research, but I'll start here for now. Thoughts?

This evidence is actually exactly what I'm talking about. It would be incorrect to say that with every choice you can trace back a linear causation like A - B- C -Decision. It is more like a matrix where thousands of experiences, thoughts, lessons from past decisions, some very subtle, all converge at one point to CAUSE not my decision but my DESIRE to make the decision. The direct cause is my desire but my desire had a myriad of influences coming together to create it.
This, I believe, is where the miracle of regeneration comes in. When God supernaturally intercedes into a life and in spite of all of the causality that has created depraved wicked desires (Eph 2), causes we have no ability to change, and He changes those desires to a desire that is holy and God seeking.
In short, we can do whatever we want, but we cant want we want (that is determined through causality - either the natural causality or the causality of the intervention of God). Praise God that he fixes wanters!
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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by drainey on Thu Apr 05, 2012 3:49 pm

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Thu Apr 05, 2012 5:37 pm

I think that is a good question. How would you define it, Daniel?

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by drainey on Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:02 pm

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:26 pm

How would that work with salvation?

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by drainey on Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:31 pm

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by JoelKizz on Thu Apr 05, 2012 10:47 pm

drainey wrote:So if I boil the above argument down, the one directly above this one, is it dishonest to say you believe that God is not a puppeteer, but merely a great deceiver by making you think you want what you choose?

It is not accurate because it is not being proposed that God makes "you think" you want what you choose. You actually really do want it. There is no illusion involved.



drainey wrote: Can any of us be trusted with defining fairly something they strongly don't believe in?

This is a great question and it strikes to the heart of bias in thought and discussion. I am convinced that most people's (including myself) most cherished beliefs / convictions are things they have never really thought through and in those instances I think your criticism is a valid one. However, on this particular issue my position isn't one of of default bias. Rather, I firmly held my ground as one of the truest believers in the autonomous free will of man. It was only through a process of research, thought, study of scripture, and discussion, that I can only compare to to the process of having my teeth yanked out one by one, that led me my current position. This certainly doesn't mean that I cant be blinded by bias though and I hope I can be mindful enough to be cautious of that.

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by JoelKizz on Thu Apr 05, 2012 10:55 pm

drainey wrote:Very simply, but very differently:

If you do not have free will, then how can you love?
If you do not have free will, then why pray? Why ask God for anything if it does not matter?
If you do not have free will, and God is Sovereign, then God is responsible for all evil in the world or evil does not exist.
These are great questions Daniel

1-Why is my ability to love one thing contingent on the fact that I must be free to love another? My heart has affections and is drawn towards things both in my carnality and in my spirituality and the hard truth is I simply cant choose to change those affections. Trust me if I could simply choose to change them I would. This is where I see the grace of God most clearly in my life. Anytime a thought is taken captive or some carnal desire is replaced by a godly one I know its God's work in my life.

Ill see if someone else wants to tackle #2 or #3 for now...

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by drainey on Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:10 pm

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by Jeremyshall on Fri Apr 06, 2012 9:18 am

Concerning the question of prayer, I have been having this conversation with a few people over the last few weeks so I have been thinking through it a little. Let me ask you a couple of questions. If God doesn't override our sinful desires that are, according to Ephesians 2:4-5 (4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.) the desires of dead men, then what are you praying for when you pray for the salvation of a loved one? Are you asking that God would just make the offer of salvation to them? Or do you pray that God would save them from themselves? Aren't you really asking that God would overshadow their own desires and draw them to Himself?

I believe that prayer is not about changing God's mind, but specifically about trying to align myself with who God is and to rest in the fact that God is good and holy and has His own glory in mind at all times. Knowing that God is about making His own name great, every situation exists to make Him known. This means that I can pray, asking for the things that I think I need, but being ever conscious of what Christ said in the garden, "not my will, but Yours be done" Lk 22:42. My will and desires are from a limited scope and understanding, so why would I want an infinite God to use them as any kind of marker or measurement when deciding what is good and right and best for me? Prayer is a command, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, so there is obvious value, since all commands are to help us, but thinking that we can see a situation and understand it well enough to ask for the exact thing that would be most needed is arrogant at best.

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by drainey on Fri Apr 06, 2012 8:51 pm

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by b2054972426 on Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:06 pm

I would say that you can't truly define free will for our limited scope of understanding in the first place, but I can always give it a try Free Will- the ability to choose off of your own accord. Will you have influence from the out side? Yes. Do you have to follow that influence no matter what? No, you have chioce to except what you have learned through your experience and decide wether to use it or not. Example: lately on the parenting topics a post on John Piper's son Abramham who didn't come to christ until he hit bottom. Was John a bad influence on him? No. Did Abramham allow John's influence affect his decisions? No.

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by b2054972426 on Tue Apr 10, 2012 10:26 pm

Sorry, was interupted on my last reply. Now to answer Danial's third question the only way I know how to explain is quote from Aristotle: That the only way to truly grasp at wisdom is to hold two opposite ideas at the same time in this case Free Will and God's Soveriegnity. On this note I would like to bring you back to the garden of Eden if God didn't give us free will then there is no point for him to put the tree of knowledge there and tell Adam and Eve not to eat of it they would not have the option to eat of the tree and disobey God. This would mean we would be living in a perfect world right now, but a world that didn't give God glory we wouldn't be any different from any other animal, but God did give us free will to choose, so that we would choose to obey him and Glorify him not because we have to but we want to. inturupted agian

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Re: How do you define Free Will and does it exist?

Post by b2054972426 on Tue Apr 10, 2012 11:15 pm

I'm back to finish my response. This is why i know we have free will because God created us to Glorify him, if we didn't get to choose to give him the glory and obey him then all you have is a all powerful dictator not a completly holy God. This is the reason why we're held accountable for our evil deeds because God allows us to choose between him or the corrupted world, and eveyone of us and everyone in the world has spit on God and choose the world at one point or another.

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